LAURENCE STANLEY VINCENT (11/1894-19/07/1916)
Presentation by David Hornby to Wellington Historical Society
This is the story of Laurence Stanley Vincent born in November 1894 in Narrabri. Laurie was the eldest son of Charles Vintzentz (Anglized to
Vincent) & Isabella Caraline Magann. Charles owned a
store at Narrabri West which was burnt down in the big fire of 28/12/1911.
Rita (my mother) wasn't there at that time but with
Grandma Roser at Duncans Creek.
She was with Grandma until she was 7 years old. Fortunately, the
shop was insured and Charles was able to rent a new shop in Balmain the same
year. After Laurie's death in 1916 the family
moved to their own shop in Lewisham.
Laurie enlisted on
5/7/1915 at 21 years of age . Private #777 in the 30 th Battalion. After enlisting
Laurie trained with the battalion in Egypt withtheremnants of the
Gallipoli campaign. They trained under General McCay and included a
particularly strenuous desert march. They hadhe irksome and tiresome duty of
guarding the Suez Canal and the monotony made the trainees look
forward to some action excitement in France.
Looking at army
records at the Oxley Museum (Wellington's Finest) it is surprising how many
Australian recruits were reprimanded and punished for insubordination and
larrikinism. This caused the dismay of British high command and disciplinarians
such as McCay. It has been attributed to both the Australian psyche
and the fact that they were volunteers.
From the picturesque
villages of France the battalion was transported to the front at
Fromelles. The postcard was sent on 2 July 1916, 17 days later he was
dead. They barely had time to dig in and no time to reconnoitre the
surroundings. The artillery, depleted of those experienced menwho joined the
Middle East campaign, where unable to develop into an effective unit. This
was to have dire consequences.
Field Marshall Haig
looking at his map back at headquarters decided that Fromelles would be a
good place for a feint attack to confuse the
enemy before the Somme campaign. Their ill preparedness was of no consequence.
They were ordered “over the top” on 19 July 1916. Only half the Australian troops had actually seen the front line and they had only been therefor 5 days!
14 th July 1916
My dear Mother and Father
Just a line or
two to let see I am still going strong and in the best of health.
This is the first
time we have been able to write for some days but I hope you will not
worry about any delays in my letters;
put it down to military reasons.
Well Dear Parents
we are now in the trenches and not having a bad time but it gets a bit
warm when old “Fritz” gets “strafing” us
It is a case of
hands down and under the “funk” boards then, but he makes more row than he
does damage. There is not
much to be
frightened of here, though the snipers are a bit busy and you do
not waste much time getting past their spots.
I felt a bit scared for
the first day but we are getting used to it now. It is like home (I
The weather has
been fairly good and it is not cold at all. The only thing I would like is a
good bath. We have not had our clothes off yet.
There is not much
to tell about the life here unless one told some of the impossible yarns
some of the chaps do when writing home.
The tucker is
good. Our cooks seem to be improving; perhaps they think we will lob a bomb
on the cookhouse if they displease our
We have a good little dugout pretty “comfy” there are two of us in it. We do most of our work at night and sleep during the daytime like night owls.
We had a paper
mail some days ago, I also received your pack of cards; they came in very
handy as our other pack was very dilapidated
looking, I have not received any parcels for a while but I think they must be delayed on account of our shifting about so much lately.
I had a card from Alf Wright the other day. He is over here somewhere and has had a turn in the front line. I have not heard from Ernie Benjosic
for a good while
but suppose that a letterwill turn up sometime or other. I suppose Cec
Pitoher has left by this I wrote him last mail.
I have not heard of any more of the boys enlisting yet; “coldiers” still seem to be very prevalent overthere.
Well dear Mum and
Dad there is no more news to tell you at present so I must close this
letter. Give my best love to all at home
and may God bless and keep you all is the earnest prayer of loving son
It was common in correspondence for soldiers to wonder where their mates and relatives were and when found there was quite some
correspondence between them at the front. The term “coldiers” would appear to be a derogative term for those back home who were not
prepared to enlist.
artillery were unable to take out the concrete bunkers, the source of deadly
machine gun cross fire or the watchtower in
which German observers were able to see well behind Australian lines. It has been reported that the artillery did not even possess a map!
On the other hand
the German artillery were already proving to be deadly accurate aided by
the lookouts in the high tower.
The Australian engineers trying to plant a torpedo device to make a pathway for the
where seen by the lookout who then guided the German artillery wiping out
a unit of engineers. Before they even
went over the top, Australian causalities were high.
artillery bombardment also signalled to the Germans that an attack was imminent
so that there was no element of surprise
- “the supreme element in war” - Elliot. Further, the German lookouts knew precisely what the Australians were doing. It's inconceivable that
theAustralian did not know about the lookout (in a church tower) and not make it the main target of their artillary.
To make matters worse, the artillery had only half the shells that High Command thought they had.
The Commander of the
Australian 5 th Division, was General Sir James Whiteside McCay. He was 51 at
the time of the battle of Fromelles.
While undoubtedly a brave soldier he
led by fear and bluster rather than inspiration. The Bulletin wrote of
his obituary in 1930 that while he
was a“bold soldier and a brave man” he was “about the most detested officer in the AIF" at an early age of the war and remained so to the
The 5th Division was led by Brigadier General Elliott and he was profoundly concerned. The operation seemed inadvisable for a host of
preparations would be rushed, the artillery wasinexperienced, and no man's land was too wide (400 metres in places). Elliott's men would
alsohave to advance opposite the formidable German strongpoint known as the Sugarloaf, anelevated concrete bastion bristling with
McCay's orders were
to show bayonets, the Germans would then show themselves and be
shot down. This was to be repeated 3 times.
If this seems bizarre, it
was. The Germans did not show themselves so that all the show of bayonets did
was to warn them of an imminent
On 19/7/1916 the 5th
Division went over the top to a “third” line. However, there was
no third line and they had to dig in and seek shelter
best they could. The "charge" was further hindered by Haig's stupid order that soldiers were to walk slowly to the enemy line where
(accordingto Haig) the Germans would run away in fear! The idiocy of this order is breathtaking.
Sugarloaf machine guns inflicted calamitous casualties on the 15th Brigade.
Its attacking battalions, the 59th and
60th, were practically wiped
out. On the scene was WH "Jimmy" Downing, who served in Elliott's brigade
during the war and became his
legal partner after it. He recorded his impressions:
of German machine-guns spluttered violently, drowning the noise of the
cannonade. The air was thick with bullets,
swishing in a flat criss-crossed lattice of death ... Hundreds were mown down in the flicker of an eyelid, like great rows of teeth knocked
from acomb ... Men were cut in two by streams of bullets [that] swept like whirling knives ... It was the charge of the Light Brigade once
more,but more terrible, more hopeless.
Running out of
ammunition and all their officers killed or wounded. All they could do was
charge back through the Germans to their own
line. Even so, Colonel Cass' party, although reduced to 7 unwounded men, captured 20 Germans.
McCay's disgusting actions meant there were now 2 Generals with the nickname “butcher”; Haig and McCay.
COVERUP AND CENSORSHIP
The coverup began almost immediately with the word Fromelles expunged from Australian history. This was because the Australian
Governmentwas wholly dependent on volunteers and did not want the public to know of another British disaster and massacre hard on the heels of Gallipoli.
records on Laurie run to about 40 pages.
Nowhere is Fromelles mentioned
in the Australian records but it is mentioned by the German doctor's
death certificate. The Germans had no
problem with the name "Fromelles"!
Every time my Grandmother and family asked about Laurie's place of death all they got was the standard reply “killed in France”. Yet, the
clerks that answered their queries knew it was Fromelles because of the German death certificate. My grandmother died never knowing
where herbeloved Laurie lay buried.
The War Graves Commission mandated that “Fromelles” cannot appear on any war memorial by excluding it from the list of allowable battles to be recorded.
This has to be the most successful piece of censorship in the Western world - 95 years of which 93 were without reason! The censorship
was not mandated but amazingly, was self imposed! Even the returned soldiers from that battle would for some reason, not refer to
Fromelles. It's beyond the comprehension of my generation.
After the battle the Germans sought permission from the Australian and British Governments to bury the dead soldiers in mass graves and
to their everlasting shame, both governments agreed. This is how the Australian Government would have it with about 160 lost soldiers,
“whereabouts unknown”. The government knew of the mass graves as they had approved them.
Enter Lambis Englezos, stage right!
Labis' quest to find
the missing diggers of Fromelles began with a simple calculation of the
number men missing after the battle compared
to the number of unknown
dead registered at the cemeteries in the region.
He figured if there are 163 dead unaccounted for and the records show that the Germans had buried 161 (Red Cross records) ; a strong
indication that the dead were buried nearby. But where?
sleuthing using before and after aerial photographs he found what appeared to be
new trenches, the size of mass graves at
Pheasant Wood. He and his team of supporters thought they knew where the missing 160 were buried. He made his findings public and
assumed that the bureaucracy would take notice and investigate the matter further.
How wrong he was!
The bureaucrats and institutions such as the RSL showed complete
disinterest and threw up obstacles to hinder
further investigations. However, he persevered, to the extent that he was considered a nutcase and nuisance by the establishment.
newspaper articles and a TV program but particularly questions in
Parliament by a determined senator; an Expert Committee
was set up. After
presenting arguments usingaerial photographs and war records he established his
case to be true “on the balance
of probabilities. That is, sufficient enough to warrant further investigation.
Not at all deterred
by such evidence, the Committee rejected his arguments and told the schoolteacher to
prove his case beyond
reasonable doubt! They concluded that there
wasinsufficient evidence to carry out a non invasive investigation of the
site. One suspects that
they were quite miffed by a non historian
finding out so much. After a second hearingthey found the evidence was
historical grounds, to support any further investigation of the site”.
Not a great day for the experts of the committee which included distinguished historians from the War Memorial and Defence.
pressure continued and in 2006 Chris Bryant, a lawyer, joined the team. He asked
pertinent lawyer type questions about who
was responsible for what
and why and this worried the bureaucrats. He then obtained financial
backing from a wealthy West Australian to
carry out a private dig. When he
publicly announced this, the Expert Committee became extremely worried.
It would be a bad look if a
private consortium uncovered the remains of Australian soldiers after the Committee had so strenuously denied the possibility.
This led to the Committee employing the GUARD team from Oxford University to carry out an initial non invasive examination using metal
of metal objects were detected and when dug up showed beyond doubt that
Australian soldiers were buried on the site.
The results proved that Lambis'
theory wascorrect. To give credit where
credit is due, the unit set up by the Government, after realising
their massive mistake swung into action in a professional manner.
Firstly, it was
necessary to obtain the owners' of Pheasant Wood permission to
excavate further. Fortunately they were typical provincial
farmers in their 80s and were only too happy to let the Australian Government exhume the soldiers' remains from the site.
The exhumation was
given to a private team who did an excellent job in bad weather. Surviving
relatives were asked to provide a DNA
sample which consisted of two cheek swabswhich were sealed and mailed back to London. Myself, my sister and a cousin provided
samples so that Laurie's remains were positively identified.
On 19 July 2002 the anniversary of the battle, a commenration ceremony was held ar Fromelles and the dedication of Laurie's grave.
Unfortunately I was unasble to attend but my sister, cousin and their extended family did. My cousin Paul read out Laurie's last letter.
Hitler on left with dog that strayed from Australian lines
WHY FROMELLES SHOULD BE REMEMBERED
1. It's where about half of Gallipoli's veterans went and Australia is obsessed with Gallipoli
2. They were the first Australian troops to serve in Europe and therefore, the first “diggers”.
3. It was the worst 24 hours in Australia's history: 5533 causalities more than the Boer, Korean and Vietnam Wars combined
4. Reinforces the role played by inept British generals in both Gallipoli and the western front.
5. The opposing
German forces were Bavarian with a certain Lance Corporal; Hitler.After defeating and
occupying France Hitler
held a quiet celebrations with his former comrades at Fromelles.
at Fromelles clearly made a deep impression on him. In 1942 he arranged for
a memorial plaque to be erected on the
wall of his 1916 billet in
nearby Fournes. The plaque was smashed after WW2 but restored and is now
on display at the l'Association pour le
Souvenir de la Batailie de
Fromelles museum above the Fromelles Town Hall.
Immediately after his army defeated France on 25 June 1940, Hitler set off on a tour of Fromelles battlefield with his comrades from 1916.
visited his old billet, regimental cemetery and the blockhouse where
he had taken refuge from the attacking Australians
during the battle.
A photo of Hitler
shows him with his comrades and a dog. The dog strayed from
Australian lines. Hitler was a
dog lover and made the dog
his pet. Eva Braun complained that for the 15 years she knew Hitler, all he could talk about was dogs and vegetarian food!
All Australians deserve to know that a lucky Australian bullet at Fromelles might have meant no World War 2.